My plans have changed a little bit since I last posted. Originally, I was supposed to leave tomorrow morning to Santiago to spend Christmas with my friends in Santiago. But on Wednesday morning I woke up and realized that my house didn't have electricity. It wasn't a blackout because my neighbors and ECIM had electricity. My neighbor even came over to help me; we tried all the switches with no luck. I tried calling and emailing my friends in Santiago, who are also my landlords, but I still hadn't heard back from them by yesterday afternoon. So I decided to pack up my bags and stay at the dormitories at ECIM. I imagine it would be pretty awkward to show up on their doorstep after not hearing from them, so I'm going to spend Christmas here too. Luckily, Gonzalo and possibly Sebastian and Rondrigo will be here. It actually works out because the tides look really good on Sunday, so I plan on going out to do one last thing. The tides have been really bad all this week, so I would have felt like I had unfinished business if I had left tomorrow. Christmas will be totally different than any other I've experience before, but it's kind of exciting and I'm actually looking forward to it.
Starting on Monday morning, I will be traveling! I've tried to include links and information in case you want some ideas for what to do in Chile. I call this a 'Chile highlights tour'.
My MIF ('Most Important Friend'; we met each other when she moved in two houses away when I was 9 years old and she's almost like a sister), Nicole, is flying in to Santiago on Monday morning. So I plan to catch an early bus from Las Cruces and meet her at the airport. Then, I'll whisk her away on a bus to Vicuña, a charming little town in Valle del Elqui, known for the best stargazing in the world, the Chilean Nobel Prize winning poet Gabriel Mistral, and viticulture. We'll spend four nights at Hostal Donde Rita, which was recommended to me by a group of German tourists I met in Valparaíso. Supposedly, it's owned by a German woman named Rita who moved there with her husband after visiting and falling in love with the climate and scenery. After her husband died, she turned their home into a Hostel, where she feeds her guests large German breakfasts and fresh-baked treats and throws bbqs and pool parties with her hot Chilean gardeners (!!). Using the hostel as our base camp, possible activities include (but are not limited to): visiting the local observatory, hiking, drinking Pisco at the Mistral distillery in Pisco Elqui, horseback riding, and pool parties and bbqs with Rita.
On the 30th, we'll travel to Valparaíso. On the 31st, one of my best friends from graduate school, Gloriana, will meet us there. She's taking a course in developmental biology in Quintay, a small town just north of Las Cruces, starting on January 5, so she's coming a few days early so we can see Chile together.
Not only is basically all of Valparaíso a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but is supposedly the best place to spend New Year's Eve in South America, if not the world. My friends at ECIM have been talking about it for the last month, which is partially what influenced me to stay in Chile through the holidays. Several of them will meet us there, along with hundreds of thousands of other Chileans, for one last hurrah. Starting a month ago, I tried finding a room for Gloriana because she's pregnant, but everything was booked or quintuple the normal rate. I emailed one final hostel to ask them if they had availability on the 2nd and 3rd, resigned to the fact that I wouldn't spend New Year's in Valpo. But to my surprise the owner replied that he also had availability on the 30th and 31st and 'in case you didn't know, Valparaíso is the best place to spend New Year's Eve.' To which I promptly replied, 'Yeah, I know! I'll take it!!!' and then jumped out of my seat to do the happy dance.
We'll use Valparaíso as our base camp until the 3rd, visiting nearby places like Viña del Mar and Concon. After that, we'll travel to Las Cruces to show them the labs and then to Santiago to see a little bit of the city before we all go our separate ways: Nicole will return to Los Angeles, Gloriana will travel to Quintay, and my next adventure will begin.
On the evening of January 4th, I'll be taking a bus south for 14 hours to Chiloé, an island archipelago that is home to mythical stories of the Caleuche and Trauco and UNESCO World Heritage Site wooden churches.
After Chiloé, I'm traveling to Northern Patagonia. It has been my mission to go to Patagonia since the beginning of this year. The idea was first put in my head by my friend Kennie, a friend and hiking buddy that I met while taking the Wilderness Basics Course through the San Diego Chapter of the Sierra Club. She suggested we do a girl's hiking trip with another friend from the WBC, Christine, to Patagonia after watching the documentary 180º South. But initially we were planning to go to Torres del Paine in Southern Patagonia because that's where all the 'Gringos' go. But it wasn't until I came to Chile that I learned that I should visit Northern Patagonia. Not only is it the most remote part of Patagonia, but the landscape is going to change dramatically due to HidroAysén, a huge power project that will build 5 hydroelectric dams in the Aysén region of Patagonia to provide power to Santiago and mines in the North. It is a huge controversy in Chile because of the large environmental impact the project is expected to have, including the construction of one major dam in a national park and the flooding of people's farms that all the dams will cause. Since it's announcement, there have been major protests throughout the country. Despite the huge public backlash, President Piñera approved the project in May. Which is why I'm going now.
For more information and beautiful photos, check this video out:
On January 7th, my Turkish friends from Boston, Mutlu and Demet, will meet me in Puerto Montt, where we'll board a ferry to travel further south through the fjords of Chile to Northern Patagonia. After 18 hours, we'll arrive in Puerto Chacabuco where we'll rent a car and drive further south on the Carretera Austral, which is supposedly one of the world's best road trips. I was planning to bus it before Mutlu and Demet told me they would come, so I'm super excited they're coming because we'll be able to see a lot more. We'll stay three nights at Hostal Puesto in Puerto Rio Tranquilo, which is located just North of dams Baker I and II:
The owners also organizes glacier tours and kayaking around the Capillas de Marmol:
Then we'll travel further south, passing through Cochrane, one of the towns expected to experience the biggest change in population growth from the project. I'm also hoping we'll drive through the future Patagonia National Park, which just opened in December, and is home to endemic species like the Huemel Deer. Before driving back up north, we'll visit Caleta Tortel, a small village on the edge of a glacier-fed lake:
It's going to be the adventure of a lifetime! I doubt I'll have time to post along the way, but I promise to share pictures and stories from my adventure when I return to either California on the 17th of January or Boston on the 22nd. In the meantime, Felices Fiestas!